Monday 20 April 2020

Metal Church - From the Vault (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Apr 2020
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Metal Church's 2018 album Damned if You Do was my first music review here at Apocalypse Later because it was my favourite album of the prior month. I've been waiting for a new album and, for a moment, thought this was it. It sort of is, because there's plenty of new material here, but it's categorised as a compilation for good reason too. In its way, it's a full length equivalent to the recent Candlemass EP but with a bit more versatility.

So let's break it down. The first four tracks are new recordings, but one is of an old song, Conductor, originally released on the Hanging in the Balance album from 1993. The next five are songs that didn't make it onto the Damned if You Do album, for one reason or another. Then there are three covers, not expected ones either. Finally, for the regular edition, there are two tracks recorded live in Japan. Other editions might include a pair of remixes from the XI album and a couple of songs that only made the deluxe edition of that one.

My first impressions of the opening four songs weren't of the music at all, because there's so much sibilance that I had to tweak my equaliser to render it all listenable. I went back to re-listen and enjoyed myself, because the songs are strong, especially the first and last. On the face of it, Dead on the Vine is the runaway highlight of these new songs but Above the Madness is seriously growing on me. The redux of Conductor is worthy too, spat out like it's an Overkill song. For No Reason is decent too, if not of the same standard as the others.

And that leads us nicely in to the Damned if You Do session rejects, because they're all decent, if not of the same standard of the others that made the album. Again, the first one, Mind Thief, appears to be the best, though the instrumentals are interesting. Insta Mental finds a nice groove, while 432hz is so wild a departure from the typical Metal Church track that I wonder if it was the groundwork for a song or just an intro that got rather out of hand. While all five are worth listening to, it's clear that the songs proper were left off Damned if You Do because other songs were more worthy and it's fair to say that the quality bar was set very high on that on album.

The most interesting songs here for me turned out to be the covers. I would have never guessed that Nazareth were an influence on Metal Church, but Mike Howe has a fantastic heavy take on the rasp of Dan McCafferty on their cover of Please Don't Judas Me, from Nazareth's 1975 album Hair of the Dog. Older still are the 1970 Sugarloaf single, Green Eyed Lady, which feels a natural choice for Steve Unger's bass, and Black Betty, which dates back at least as far as Lead Belly in 1939. This is more a take on the famous Ram Jam version from 1977, albeit notably de-glammed.

The live songs seem out of place, though they're of serious quality. They're older and more patient songs: Agent Green, originally on the 1991 album The Human Factor, and a nine minute epic, Anthem to the Estranged, from Blessing in Disguise in 1989. The crowd noise is mostly kept to the bookends, with a little during quiet moments, so these feel more like studio recordings than we might expect. My lesson here is to go back to Blessing in Disguise, which I wasn't as fond of back in 1989, after the killer prior album, The Dark. It might play differently to me nowadays.

All in all, this is an interesting set of songs. The overall feel isn't too cohesive, which kind of makes sense, but the songs themselves are worth the price of admission. My highlights are two new tracks, two covers and a live number, so they're fairly distributed. It's not up to the standards set last time out on Damned if You Do but I found it more interesting. It's certainly not your usual compilation.

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